When Dad has Early Signs of Alzheimer's

Posted On Aug 23, 2013 By Vito La Fata

Advice on How to Cope With a Parent With Alzheimer's

I've never been super close to my dad.

As a Sicilian born in the '40s, my dad did what all Sicilian men do: work and provide for the family from dawn till dusk.

We owned an Italian restaurant, La Strada's, in Long Island, NY, for 35 years. I loved that place. I miss the pizza we made, the endless pasta, chicken Parm, shrimp Parm, meatball heroes, tortellini Alfredo and every dish under the sun.

But as much as I loved that place, it also took my dad from my youth. I'm not sure if he ever caught one of my games or rooted for me at my cross country meets, but to this day I'm still grateful for what he gave us. My only regret is that we were never close.

In 2002, I moved from New York to California, 3,000 miles from my family. I don't call them every day … or even every week. But, just the same, I love them. They have always provided, but that close bond was just never quite there.

A few months ago, Dad started having "episodes" at the house. It started with disorientation, memory loss and confusion.

He can't recall events or stories. He repeats ones he's told us for years, and even those he just told us moments ago.

Just recently when I was visiting with my girlfriend for the Fourth of July, he would tell her stories and then repeat them the next day.

His stories were of how "no one remembers what he gave for the family." It breaks my heart that his fading thoughts are around those feelings.

My mom has been filling me in on the doctor's tests – there's water on the brain and early onset dementia, and Alzheimer's is looking like the verdict.

I can feel him slipping from us, and we're fading from his mind.

As I sat down to write this, I was thinking about how many other families go through this, and I started to do some research on the disease and what can be done to mitigate and potentially prevent it.

Here are some quick facts from Alz.org:

  • Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
  • More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease.
  • One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia.
  • In 2013, Alzheimer's will cost the nation $203 billion. This number is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050.

As a fitness professional, I do my fair share of reading up on what we can do about this disease. What strikes me hardest is the role exercise and nutrition play in improving the quality of life of those with Alzheimer's disease. It can even slow its progression, but so few doctors prescribe this solution and so few people heed the prescription.

So, let me ask you a question …

Do you have a parent or loved one like my dad?

What if this were happening to you?

We know that dense nutrition, exercise and cognitive use of the brain can help prevent this disease, but so many people do nothing about the growing issue.

I believe there are three basic reasons people put off eating better and exercising, even when they know it can save their life:

  1. Time: Everyone's busy. Healthcare takes time, so we put it off.
  2. Money: Our benefits typically pay only part of the cost of healthcare, and our benefits don't reward or pay for prevention.
  3. Optimism: Especially when we are young or have never experienced serious illness, we secretly believe we are going to live forever, and that cancer, Alzheimer's, heart attacks, and strokes happen to other people … not us.

My advice to you today is simple.